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The Whitney Stakes
By Amy Nesse
The G1 $1.2 Million Whitney Stakes is one of the most prestigious races of the year. It is held at the historic Saratoga racetrack every summer in late July/early August.
The Whitney has attracted some of the top caliber horses from ages 3 and above from both coasts for almost 100 years and has brought us some of the most memorable performances the Spa has ever seen.
This weekend will mark the 90th running of the Whitney Handicap. Headlining this year’s field is the multiple graded stakes winner and increasingly dominant, Gun Runner, who is coming off a 7-length romp in the GI Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Other competitors in this years “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic include infamous upsetter Keen Ice, War Story, Breaking Lucky, Cautious Giant, Tu Brutus (Chi) and Discreet Lover. Although this year’s Whitney may not be a particularly “great” race, it is still a pivotal race on the road to the Breeders’ Cup and at “The graveyard of champions” you never know what may happen. So, in honor and preparation of this year’s running of the Whitney Stakes, let’s take a look back at the history and various records set in one of Saratoga’s most prestigious races.
The Whitney Handicap (run as a handicap race through 2013) dates back to 1928. It was a major handicap race held for horses 3 years old and above and was originally run at a distance of 1¼ miles, but was later changed to 1 ⅛ miles (9 furlongs) in 1955.
The Whitney Handicap was named after the historic Whitney family, members of which have been prominent participants, owners. and major supporters of the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing for decades. At 91 years old, MaryLou Whitney can still be spotted watching her horses at the Spa and remains a pivotal figure in racing. Marylou is always present to watch and present the trophy to the winner of the prestigious race named in her family’s honor.
The race was originally run at Belmont Park from 1943 through 1945, and again once in 1961. Between 1957 and 1969, the race was restricted to horses 4 years and older and from 1928 to 1940, was closed to geldings. It is now held annually in late July/early August at the Saratoga Race Course on Saratoga’s main dirt track.
The inaugural running was won memorably by Kentucky Oaks winner and 3-time Champion filly, Black Maria. From the beginning, top caliber horses competed in the prestigious race. Some of the greatest horses in American racing history would go on to win the Whitney, including Discovery, who won it 3 times and the great Kelso, who would go on to tie his record, winning the race a third time in 1965 at the age of 8.
The race also saw one of the most dramatic upsets in racing history when Secretariat finished second to Allen Jerkens’s colt, Onion in 1973.
An almost endless list of champions would go on to win the Whitney including: Discovery, War Admiral, Devil Diver, Tom Fool, Dr.Fager, Alydar, Easy Goer, Invasor, etc.
After Black Maria, 5 other fillies would go on to win the race: Bateau in 1929, Esposa in 1937, Gallorette in 1948, Lady’s Secret in 1986, and Personal Ensign in 1988. The Whitney has become one of the top races of the year in this country. In the 2015 listing of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), the Whitney tied with the Kentucky Derby as the top Grade 1 race in the United States outside of the Breeders’ Cup races. With a significant purse of $1,500,000 attracting some of the top horses every year, it usually provides some of the more memorable performances of the year.
In 2007, the Breeders’ Cup Ltd. introduced the “Win and You’re In” qualification format. This means the winner of the Whitney Stakes will automatically qualify for a spot in the fall running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, thus attracting even more of the top horses in the country.
The Whitney Handicap has also produced some very impressive record holders in both the equine and human category.
3 – Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965)
3 – Discovery (1934, 1935, 1936)
1 1⁄8 miles – 1:46.64 – Lawyer Ron (2007)
1 1⁄4 miles – 2:02.00 – Devil Diver (1944) & Bolingbroke (1943)
Most wins by an owner:
6 – Greentree Stable (1931, 1942, 1944, 1951, 1953, 1958)
4 – C. V. Whitney (1932, 1952, 1980, 1982)
4 – Alfred G. Vanderbilt II (1934, 1935, 1936, 1954)
Most wins by a jockey:
5 – Pat Day (1986, 1987, 1989, 1995, 1998), Jerry Bailey (1992, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003)
4 – John R. Velazquez (2002, 2007, 2008, 2013)
3 – Gary L. Stevens (1990, 1991, 2005)
Most wins by a trainer:
5 – John M. Gaver, Sr. (1942, 1944, 1951, 1953, 1958)
4 – J. Elliott Burch (1955, 1972, 1980, 1982)
Longest margin of victory
10 lengths – Alydar 1978
As you watch the Whitney Handicap this weekend, I hope you can appreciate and reflect on the rich history of the race and the true champions that it has produced.
2017 Whitney field (in order of post positions)
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